MNF Review: Ravens rookie Matt Elam


The last pick in the first round and the third safety to come off the board in 2013, Baltimore's Matt Elam turned heads last week with his comments about Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

Elam by no means shut down Megatron -- they didn't face off against one another -- and, no, I don't think the comments about getting physical played a role in Johnson's drops. Elam did, however, play a pivotal role in the Ravens' much needed win.

Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees showcased Elam's versatility by lining him up in the box, over the slot and deep. He masked the coverage by rotating Elam late in certain situations. Elam matched up with tight end Brandon Pettigrew, dropped into underneath zone coverage and provided help over the top in addition to rushing off the edge.

Elam is an aggressive run defender with above-average closing burst and the ability to limit production after contact. He is on the smaller side for a safety, but he can be effective when he lines up at linebacker depth because he has above-average instincts and he does a nice job of sifting through traffic.

While his height is a concern when it comes to matching up with tight ends, he limits separation and he's physical for his size. He also shows good awareness and range in zone coverage. The pick that sealed the game is a good example. He read quarterback Matthew Stafford and got into position to make the play. Even though he didn't field the ball cleanly and it bounced off his pads, he showed good focus in bringing it back in, and the bottom line is he finished.

The most impressive aspect of Elam's game Monday night may have been his mental toughness. He got off to a rocky start by getting flagged for hitting Stafford after he started to slide and missing a tackle on WR Nate Burleson in the flat on the Lions' first drive of the game. It wasn't the only tackle he missed, either, and he can do a better job of breaking down, but time and time again he bounced back from mistakes to help his team get the win.

It's worth noting that the other two safeties taken in the first round are also making an impact with their respective teams. The 15th overall pick, Kenny Vaccaro, is an excellent fit for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan's scheme in New Orleans and 18th overall pick Eric Reid has picked off four passes for San Francisco this year.

There's a chance that no safeties go in the first round of this year's draft. A lot will depend on whether or not Alabama true junior Ha Ha Clinton-Dix declares.

It hasn't been a smooth season for Clinton-Dix. The NCAA suspended him for two games after he accepted a loan from a member of the Alabama strength and conditioning team. He also had his knee scoped following the Iron Bowl.

Still, Clinton-Dix looks like a first-round talent on tape. He's a playmaker with outstanding instincts and above-average ball skills. He has more than enough range to cover the deep half and he has above-average man cover skills for a safety. While he's not a downhill thumper, he's a reliable tackler with the size to line up in the box.

LSU's Craig Loston and Baylor's Ahmad Dixon project as fringe Day 2 picks and worth keeping an eye on as the draft evaluation process continues to unfold.

Loston's inability to stay healthy this year and throughout his career raises a red flag. He's not as instinctive or fluid as Clinton-Dix in coverage, either, though he too plays the ball well. The redshirt senior is at his best making plays in run support. He's a downhill striker who takes sound pursuit angles and has the body control to make plays in space.

Dixon is another heavy hitter whose greatest strength is stopping the run. He shows good strength taking on blocks in the box and decent closing speed in pursuit. He has his limitation in coverage but he has the range to hold up in zone and he flashes the ability to play the ball.

There is one red flag for Dixon worth mentioning. Waco police arrested and charged him with misdemeanor assault in late September. During interviews, teams will want to hear his side of the story and determine whether or not they think he has the potential to be a team distraction.